Bristol police Officers Eric Wethered and Jason Kasparian took aim at a threatening male suspect on a screen in the Police Department’s new shooting decision simulator, and shouted at him to drop his weapon.
They decided to shoot when the suspect went for a weapon — and when the simulation was over, a training officer, Eric Ouellette, evaluated how they did.
The simulator is designed to help police prepare for potential deadly force situations, and it is just one of many purchases that police around the state made after getting funds through federal and state criminal asset forfeiture programs.
Police agencies reported using the funds for a variety of purchases, including police dogs, pistols, computer equipment and shooting simulators.
Bristol police Lt. Stephen Tavares said the department started using the $50,000 simulator, purchased in December, in an empty school building in January.
“It is as real-life as we can get it, and it has proven to be an important purchase for the Police Department,” Tavares said. “The officers get immediate evaluation on how they did.”
Officers will take part in a scenario for a few seconds, then spend 10 minutes talking about what transpired and why they made their decision.
The portable machine has about 800 simulated “shoot, don’t shoot” incidents, such as pulling over a car with a suspect in it, walking into a warehouse for a burglar alarm, and responding to a domestic dispute. Some situations involve a suspect using deadly force against the officer, and in others, the suspect complies with orders.
The officers use a weapon similar to their actual weapon in weight and size, but with simulation rounds that splatter paint. The video stops after a shot is fired, so the officers can also judge their aim.
“This will save lives — it is the best way to replicate scenarios officers might encounter on the street,” Ouellette said.
Bristol Police Chief Thomas Grimaldi said the department previously rented a simulator for one week a year, at a cost of $4,500 each time. The department is willing to share its new one with other police departments on a limited basis.
“We truly believe that the training provided is well worth it,” Grimaldi said. “All of our officers have had an opportunity to train with our newly purchased simulator, and many officers have told me the purchase was definitely a good one.”
North Haven police are also planning to use 2013 forfeiture funds toward a use of force decision simulator, which they expect to have ready to use this summer, according to North Haven Police Chief Tom McLoughlin, whose department got $32,577 in federal asset forfeiture funds in 2013.
The Division of Criminal Justice used federal asset forfeiture funds to buy Glock pistols, handcuffs, and raid jackets for division inspectors, who are sworn law enforcement officers assigned to the Office of the Chief State’s Attorney, according to spokesman Mark Dupuis.
New Haven police got $71,159 in federal and $49,307 in state asset forfeiture funds in 2013, according to Lt. Joseph Witkowski, director of planning and information services.
The New Haven department used the funds for cell phones, lease of undercover cars, informant money, management training, equipment for narcotics unit vehicles and other tactical equipment, according to Witkowski.
“It provides us with resources we otherwise might not have to do narcotics enforcement,” Witkowski said. “(Narcotics enforcement) is one of our major issues, and is often tied to gun violence.”
Hamden Chief Thomas Wydra said his department used asset forfeiture funds to support the narcotics unit, for rental cars for undercover work, and for travel expenses for training. They also bought a police canine, safety equipment for motorcycles such as lights, SWAT uniforms and equipment.
“The forfeiture money is nice and we have used it toward things we wouldn’t have gotten through the operating budget,” Wydra said.
The North Branford Police Department didn’t get federal funds, but did get $5,145 in state funds in 2013.
North Branford Police Sgt. Gary Ripa said this 2013 money hasn’t been used so far, but he noted that the department’s most recent purchase with forfeiture money was an enclosed trailer, which is being used both by local police and members of South Central Regional SWAT team.
“This trailer allows a permanent storage facility for team members and allows for a more rapid deployment,” Ripa said.
Shelton Police Chief Joel Hurliman said the department used forfeiture money to buy a new Automated Fingerprint Identification System, or AFIS, machine, as he said their previous one was about eight years old and needed to be replaced.
The machine takes fingerprints and sends the information to state and federal databases, so police find out immediately if a person is being dishonest about their identity, or if they have outstanding warrants, Hurliman said.
In the past, Shelton has used asset forfeiture funds to fund extra vehicles above the budget. Most of the time, it has been spent on technology, according to Hurliman.
“The city has never given me any problem in terms of spending the money on police equipment whatsoever,” Hurliman said. “We do have to follow certain bidding procedures for higher ticket items.”
Ansonia police also purchased a fingerprint machine with asset forfeiture money, according to Lt. Andrew Cota.
“The machine allows us to do multiple tasks at once,” Cota said. “When a person is arrested and needs to be fingerprinted their biographical information only needs to be entered one time in our Records Management System. Once this is done the information is sent to the fingerprint machine electronically. The officer then fingerprints the person and the fingerprints are sent electronically to the state police. We also have the advantage of knowing relatively quickly the identity of the person being fingerprinted, if they have fingerprints on file.”
The machine is inkless and lets the operator know if a print needs to be redone, according to Cota.
Orange was among several communities that used forfeiture funds to get police dogs.
In Orange, police used asset forfeiture money to get a canine named Trent, who graduated in June from the State Police K-9 academy. Trent, a Labrador, is the department’s first detection dog, and the dog is trained to find marijuana, heroin, ecstasy, opiates and more, according to Assistant Chief Anthony Cuozzo.
While Woodbridge police got a small amount, about $3,085, including both federal and state asset forfeiture funds for 2013, it was able to buy equipment.
Woodbridge Lt. Jeff Leiby said the department used the funds to offset the purchase of a solar speed sign, which the department can put on various town roads to remind motorists about speeding and to help reduce accidents.
“In the future we will use the funds to offset purchases for items normally not budgeted for that will help with enforcement and education and drug related activity,” Leiby said.
Middletown police didn’t get any federal funding last year. The state reported issuing $19,084 to Middletown in state asset forfeiture funds for fiscal year 2013.
Middletown police used the funds to repair and repurpose undercover vehicles, for confidential informant funds, and for officers to attend the Narcotics Enforcement Officers Association conference in Newport, R.I., according to Lt. Heather Desmond.
Torrington police also didn’t get federal asset forfeiture funds last year, but did get $18,905 in state asset forfeiture funds in fiscal year ending June 2013, according to the state.
Torrington Lt. Bart Barown said the department used $2,500 for narcotic “buy money” for use during investigations; $400 for a crime prevention outreach program called National Night Out, $9,400 for a new telephone recording system for the department, $1,395 for a bite-suit to protect an officer during training with a police canine, and $660 to update policies and procedures through an attorney.
©2014 the New Haven Register (New Haven, Conn.)